Wyoming State Forestry reviews forest health, industry in the stateWritten by Saige Albert
Afton – Forest health and the disposition of the timber industry in Wyoming are two topics that have occupied much of the time of Josh Van Vlack, Wyoming State Forestry’s new assistant state forester for forest management.
Van Vlack comments that the Governor’s Forest Health Task Force has also been at the top of the list of items that have impacted the division in 2015.
“Forest health is always a big concern in the state, especially with the mountain pine beetle epidemic,” Van Vlack says. “We continue to see a downturn in mountain pine beetle activity, the Black Hills being the exception.”
Aerial photography has shown that treatments put in place in Wyoming have been effective, and a clear line of green, healthy forest can be seen on the Wyoming-South Dakota border.
“The cut-and-chunk and spotting programs have been quite effective,” he continues.
“Along those lines, $1 million of the mountain pine beetle grant funding approved by the legislature in 2014 has been expended,” Van Vlack says. “Those projects were in Crook, Laramie, Johnson and Carbon counties.”
With a number of projects complete, $400,000 was awarded for Campbell, Converse and Crook counties and the Medicine Bow Conservation District in a second round of funding in 2015.
A third and final round of grant funding was opened, and Van Vlack notes that the entirety of the appropriation will be spent in that funding cycle, unless the legislature renews those dollars in the upcoming budget session.
The majority of beetle kill work has been focused on forest products.
“We are trying to get as much of that wood for the mills as possible,” he says. “Given the state of our forests in the state and region, not all of the wood is sent to a sawmill. Sometimes we do have to resort to just disposing of it to reduce fuel loading.”
With a focus on timber management, particularly in southeast Wyoming, Van Vlack notes, “The timber industry continues to be highly unstable.”
“We’ve seen three of the facilities close, citing lack of supply,” he says.
Wyoming State Forestry’s contract forester position, which was a cooperative initiative approved by the legislature, has improved accessibility to timber, however, and Van Vlack comments, “That position is making great progress. They have been putting out a lot of timber, helping feed the mills and getting new management started on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land that has been absent for several years.”
The position was formed as a temporary, two year, cooperative initiative with BLM. However, Van Vlack notes Wyoming State Forestry is seeking to extend it an additional two years.
“The Forest Service has offered to match half of that employee’s salary and include some Forest Service land in potential management,” he says. “That has the potential to expand the scale and scope of the projects and continue to supply good volume to the mill in Saratoga.”
The first year of the program netted nearly 1 million board-feet of timber sold. Calendar year 2015 is expected to net an additional 4 million board-feet, and an average of 2 million board-feet of timber are projected moving into the future.
Only five medium to large sawmills in the state are currently operating, Van Vlack says, noting, “At the peak, we had close to 190 facilities in the 1970s. We’ve consistently seen consolidation of many facilities.”
Forest Health Task Force
With the completion of a report from the Governor’s Forest Health Task Force, Carson Engelskirger, outreach coordinator for Wyoming State Forestry, was hired to address the recommendations of the Task Force.
“There were 12 recommendations with 53 sub-recommendations,” Engelskirger says. “We are in the process of going through and evaluating recommendations to find the low hanging fruit to address to improve Wyoming’s forests.”
Engelskirger notes that he has begun to work with stakeholders in several capacities.
“I’m working with stakeholders to help the Wyoming Water Development Commission on watershed assessments on the effects of catastrophic wildfires, specifically in the Buffalo and Cheyenne areas,” he explains. “Denver is still seeing the effects of what happens when fire comes through on a municipal water supply, and we are trying to see what we can do with Forest Service to address that.”
Engelskirger also mentioned that other initiatives identified include invasive species and the prevention of their spread through the “Play, Clean, Go” program, as well as interest in biomass.
“The Governor and his office are moving forward on recommendations for funding this coming year,” he adds.
Van Vlack and Engelskirger addressed the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee in Afton in mid-September.